SMUD Pulls the Plug on Proposed Iowa Hill Pumped Storage Project

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The Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District (SMUD) pulled the plug on its proposed Iowa Hill Pumped Storage project citing expense and financial risk as its reasons for doing so.

First proposed in 2004, the Iowa Hill Pumped Storage project was envisioned to be a large 400MW project that would smooth out summer energy demand by providing a bump in power supply during the warmest (and therefore most energy intensive) part of the day. The Iowa Hill project would have involved the construction of a new reservoir and pipeline on a mountain top adjacent to Slab Creek Reservoir, part of SMUD’s existing Upper American River Project, on the American River, east of Sacramento, California.

The plan was immediately controversial among local homeowners who feared disruption from construction traffic and blighted views as the mountain top was hollowed out to create space for the new reservoir. Additional concerns about environmental impacts and the lack of detailed analysis of the project were also raised by the Forest Service and HRC members participating in the Upper American River project relicensing.

A compromise between SMUD, the Forest Service and HRC members was struck in2006 to allow SMUD to include the Iowa Hill project in its new license for the Upper American River project. Under the compromise agreement, SMUD could continue to evaluate the feasibility of the Iowa Hill project and build it if it became clear that Iowa Hill was viable.

In 2015, SMUD re-evaluated its need for energy storage and determined that it would need only half the amount of storage that would have been provided by the Iowa Hill project. That, combined with growing new technologies such as battery storage that could meet the needs of SMUD’s customers with less capital investment, made the cost of constructing the Iowa Hill project less attractive.  The project is estimated to have cost $ 1.45 billion.

For more information, see SMUD’s press release.